Originally written for www.stuff.co.nz published 3 July 2018

It’s the dead of winter but you want results fast. A high intensity bootcamp seems to be an obvious answer. There’s lots of options for bootcamps these days, and it’s easy to see why.

Bootcamps are not only affordable, they have the ability to build a unique camaraderie amongst participants – there’s something about getting up super early to exercise your guts out that gets people hooked. Most say it’s fun, even if it’s painful, and there’s a sense of achievement when you complete the Workout of the Day and you’re smugly off to the office knowing your exercise is done for the day.

However, not all bootcamps are created equal. Some build intensity gradually over the course of the programme, while others will push maximum intensity right from the start which can be challenging if you’re new to exercising.

The standard bootcamp (but not all bootcamps) has a reputation of pushing you beyond your limits to achieve greatness. This is called the adaption response and it’s a sound principle – when you’re fit, build in recovery time and have good technique. It fosters grit and determination and helps you to progress. But if every session week in week out you’re pushing past exhaustion because you’re caught up in the mantra ‘we don’t stop when we’re tired, we stop when we’re done’ (or something equally sadistic) and your body is screaming for you to stop, it’s probably best to listen. Just because you pushed through the pain, threw up and finished your set does not make you a hero. It just means you probably won’t be able to move for the next few days.

If you’re starting from the couch, jumping into a high intensity exercise programme will hurt but you’ll most likely see dramatic changes quickly, especially if you’re paying attention to your food and sleep. That’s provided you don’t smash yourself continuously and get injured. If you’re not in tune with your body, don’t have enough recovery time, or you push through body soreness constantly, your immune system may be compromised, fatigue can set in, and injuries will likely occur so changes in your body may take longer.

Some body types are naturally more suited to bootcamp style workouts and will adapt faster than those with body types more suited to longer, lower intensity endurance work, or other modalities like yoga or more heavy resistance work.

If you’re thinking just one round of bootcamp for a month or two will get to your ideal state of health, you’ll need to think again. It’s kind of like thinking you only need to brush your teeth each day for a week and you’re done with dental hygiene.

The deal with exercise to improve your health and fitness is that it’s meant to be a sustainable, consistent thing.

If you can find something you enjoy, with people you like, you’re more likely stick with it. And this is where bootcamps generally have it all wrapped up.

The key is to start gradually and build your fitness foundations, pay attention to how you feel, take time to recover between sessions and make it an ongoing sustainable habit.